Posts Tagged ‘Beyonce’

Bruce Springsteen, Beyoncé post top-grossing tours of 2016

January 2, 2017

Randy Lewis, 12/29/16

Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band navigated “The River” 35th anniversary tour all the way to the bank in 2016, pulling in $268.3 million globally to score the top-grossing concert trek of the year worldwide, according to Pollstar, the concert industry-tracking publication.

Beyoncé nipped close at the E Streeters’ heels, grossing $256.4 million from her Formation world tour, followed by Coldplay ($241 million), Guns N’ Roses ($188.4 million) and Adele ($167.7 million) to round out Pollstar’s top five.

“In what has been a banner year for the concert business, the Top 10 Tours alone grossed a combined $1.67 billion,” Pollstar editor Gary Bongiovanni noted in a statement. “That is significantly better than the $1.5 billion in 2015.”

It is, in fact, an 11.3% increase.

Adele is one of just two performers to have emerged in the new millennium to make the Top 10, the other being Justin Bieber, whose tour grossed $163.3 million, placing him at No. 6 on the list.

That’s a bit of a come down from last year, when Taylor Swift had the top-grossing tour of 2015 worldwide and the Top 10 also include such relative newcomers as One Direction  and Ed Sheeran.

Following Bieber on the 2016 roster, Paul McCartney posted a worldwide gross of $110.6 million; Garth Brooks, $97 million; the Rolling Stones, $90.9 million; and Céline Dion, $85.5 million.

Coldplay, however, sold the most tickets, moving almost 2.7 million during the year, followed by Springsteen at 2.4 million and Beyoncé at 2.2 million.

Dion easily had the top average ticket price of $146.26, followed by McCartney at $127.43, the Stones at $122.33, Beyoncé at $114.59 and Springsteen at $111.48.

In terms of average gross per show, however, the Stones dwarfed the competition, taking in an staggering $9.1 million from just 14 performances in 10 cities. Beyoncé finished second with an average of nearly $5.6 million at 49 shows in 46 cities, then Coldplay at just under $5.5 million from 60 shows in 44 cities and Guns N’ Roses at almost $5.4 million from 44 shows in 35 cities.

Brooks can claim the most affordable tour among the Top 10 finishers, tickets averaging just $69.29 for the 102 performances he gave in 25 cities.

Pollstar is still finalizing figures for its annual ranking of the Top 200 tours globally and in North America; results will be posted in its Jan. 6 edition.

Bongiovanni noted that Beyoncé took top honors for the highest-grossing North American tour of 2016, but the figure for that portion of her world tour was not released.

Both Springsteen and Beyonce surpassed Swift’s field-leading gross of $250.1 million in 2015.


Beyoncé Raised the Bar With ‘Lemonade.’ Now Others Are Leaping, Too.

September 29, 2016


Does every pop star these days need a “Lemonade”?

Among Beyoncé’s more influential tactics at the moment is her insistence that an album should not be just an auditory experience and that the standard music video — a sort of trailer for an artist’s current sound or creative era — is far from enough. “Lemonade,” her sixth solo album, had its premiere in April as an artsy and provocative hourlong film on HBO, raising the bar set by “Beyoncé,” the surprise “visual album” that came with videos for every track in 2013.

As the value of digital music continues to hover near free for many consumers, some brand-name acts are following Beyoncé’s blueprint with high-concept mini-movies that can add artistic heft to projects competing for attention in an infinite pile of content. These extended videos, with their headline-grabbing cameos and high production values, have also become the latest theater in the music streaming war as services like Tidal and Apple Music function not just as platforms but as creative partners (and sometimes financial backers) with artists, in exchange for exclusivity.

On Sunday night, Apple Music released “Please Forgive Me,” a 22-minute video with a loose action-movie plot that strings together hits from Drake’s “Views,” the biggest album of the year so far. Shot in the Soweto area of Johannesburg, “Please Forgive Me” is available only as an Apple stream — even screenshots have been disabled, minimizing Drake’s usual meme-ability — and credits Larry Jackson, the service’s head of content, as a producer and co-writer. It follows the release last month of Frank Ocean’s “Endless,” a 45-minute “visual album” and musing on the artistic process that was also exclusive to Apple. (The “Lemonade” film is available for streaming and downloading only on Tidal.)

“We are living in such a visual time, social media-wise, with Snapchat and Instagram, that every project needs to have some sort of multimedia component,” said Jeff Rabhan, a veteran artist manager and the chairman of the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at New York University. But a single with an accompanying four-minute video “just doesn’t cut through the noise,” he said.

By advertising “Please Forgive Me” as a film that was “inspired by the album” — not simply a long music video — Drake and Apple cryptically telegraphed the premiere as an event à la “Lemonade” instead of another step in the “Views” marketing plan. In fact, by aiming for prestige, artists may sacrifice some commercial impact: “Please Forgive Me” came in lieu of an earlier stand-alone YouTube video for Drake’s chart-topping summer single, “One Dance,” which could have juiced its Billboard statistics and extended its reign. (Streams have been a significant part of Drake’s success now that Billboard counts them, along with album sales, when calculating chart positions.)

“For an artist who is really wanting a body of work to be examined as a conceptual whole, this creates that environment in a singles-driven world,” Mr. Rabhan said.

Beyond the artistic-credibility incentive, the immersive experience of an extended video can also serve as “a commercial for the tour,” he added. “Drake, Beyoncé — they’re not making their money on streaming or sales. They’re making money when we spend $180 to go to Citi Field and watch ‘Lemonade’ in person.” (With Drake as its most prominent artistic face, Apple Music has also partnered with him on a Beats 1 online radio show and sponsored his “Summer Sixteen” tour with Future, another Apple-affiliated artist.)

While high-concept promotional music films and event videos date back to the Beatles and Michael Jackson, with Lady Gaga and Kanye West picking up the torch to begin the post-MTV YouTube era, more recent video projects have taken advantage of new outlets for distribution, knowingly sacrificing wider audiences by partnering with closed digital platforms thirsty for buzzy products.

Tom Connaughton, the senior vice president for content and programming at Vevo, the online music-video platform that provides some of the top clips on YouTube, said that a video is twice as likely to be shared on social media than an audio track, according to his company’s data. As a result, he said, “You’re seeing big multinational companies involved in a music streaming war using video in addition to audio to drive their agenda.” That includes luring subscribers with exclusives.

And while a major label may be reluctant to fund big-budget music videos in leaner times, ambitious artists can capitalize on their clout with streaming services that are willing to shepherd and promote such projects.

“There’s an element of competitiveness among top-tier pop stars to making bigger, flashier delivery systems for their music,” Mr. Connaughton said. “They all want to outdo each other.”

Social Media Got You Down? Be More Like Beyoncé

September 29, 2016


In Gary Shteyngart’s 2010 novel, “Super Sad True Love Story,” characters carry around smart devices called äppäräts, which are something like iPhones on meth. The book is set in the near future. Staten Island is the new Brooklyn, and all the characters use their äppäräts to chat and shop and beam their lives out to the world, nonstop. Äppäräts are also equipped with a program called RateMe Plus, which constantly calculates (and broadcasts, of course) a status ranking based on users’ jobs, financials and online popularity, which is gauged by the quantity and quality of what they share. Live-streaming the most intimate details of your life is the only way to get ahead — job promotions and romantic prospects depend on it.

Shteyngart’s extrapolations from first-generation social media are beginning to prove surprisingly prescient. The biggest companies are now slaving away to bring his vision ever closer to real­ity. It’s not a philosophical or ideological statement on their part; it’s just that their business model is predicated on sharing, and finding new ways to extricate more and more from us. This spring, Facebook introduced its 1.7 billion users to a new feature called Live, which allows anyone to broadcast his or her life in a real-time stream to friends and family. The company also said it would prioritize personal posts like Live over those from brands or news organizations — a sign that, like Shteyngart, it thinks people are far more invested in voyeurism than in anything else. (And in theory, it should know.) In August, Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, followed suit with a feature called Stories, allowing users to post photos and videos that disappear after 24 hours. The company described it as a way to “share all the moments of your day, not just the ones you want to keep.”

It all feels like harmless fun, but our online lifestyles have begun to make a real impact in our offline worlds, a trend that doesn’t seem to be reversing. In 2014, Facebook talked with lenders about the possibility of linking profiles to credit scores, and one recent survey showed that 40 percent of college-admission officers now say they peruse applicants’ social-media profiles in addition to evaluating G.P.A.s and essays.

Social media has, in its own way, provided us a means of generating other selves. We just haven’t yet learned to set them free. Beyoncé has.

Social media tends to reward those who share the most — which means we tend to see way more from certain people than we want to see. You probably already know what I mean, and have seen it in your own feeds, as friends, co-workers and complete strangers faithfully transcribe their inner monologues in a never-ending stream. Even those who make a living in the public eye aren’t immune to the perils of oversharing — on the contrary. Two recent examples come to mind: Jennifer Weiner, a very successful author by any measure (her 2002 book, “In Her Shoes,” was made into a movie starring Cameron Diaz), recently wrote an embarrassingly long diatribe on Facebook blasting Oprah for not selecting her latest novel for her book club; and the rapper the Game has posted obscene, near-nude selfies on Instagram that emphasize an enormous bulge in his underwear that may or may not be Photoshopped.

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with either example — but they each clearly underline the ways that social media has stripped away our ability to tell what is O.K. to share and what is not. It’s not just that watching people vie for your attention can feel gross. It’s also that there’s a fine line between appearing savvy online and appearing desperate.

In high-definition contrast, let’s look at Beyoncé for a moment. Unless televised live performances count, she has never live-streamed a day in her life. She rarely gives interviews, so what we know is scraped from her social-media presence — which isn’t much. I can tell you what outfit and hairstyle Beyoncé posted on social media last week, but I couldn’t tell you where in the world she was, what the inside of her house looks like or even which continent her primary residence is on. Her images tend not to be location-tagged, or even look as if they were taken with a cellphone. I couldn’t tell you who took the photos of her, because, unlike most celebrities, Beyoncé rarely posts selfies. I have no idea who comes to her pool parties, if she has a pool or has ever been to a pool party. I couldn’t guess what she wears to bed. And yet, when I speak about her, it’s as if we’ve been attached at the hip since birth. I feel, very intimately, that I know her. Beyoncé’s feed is the rice cake of celebrity social-media feeds: low in caloric content but mystifyingly satisfying.

Most people treat social media like the stage for their own reality show, but Beyoncé treats her public persona more like a Barbie — she offers up images and little more, allowing people to project their own ideas, fantasies and narratives about her life onto it. Take, for example, her response after a video leaked of her sister, Solange, attacking Beyoncé’s husband, Jay Z, in a hotel elevator. Rather than posting rapid-fire tweets explaining the whole thing, Beyoncé simply posted a series of photographs of herself and her sister having fun, quelling any rumors of a rift.

The Beyoncé we follow on social media is an illusion that feels intimate and real, one that (probably) provides the real Beyoncé space to exist privately. Credit Photo illustration by Adam Ferriss. Source photograph: Larry Busacca/Getty Images.

This logic extends to her creative work too. Earlier this year, she spent an entire album, “Lemonade,” stoking rumors of marital strife with Jay Z. Lines like “You’re gonna lose your wife” seemed to confirm that her once-dreamy relationship was on the rocks. The release of that album felt cathartic, an answer to questions about her personal life that her fans had been obsessing over for months. But then, before the fervor over that album faded, news of another album leaked: this time, a duet album. With her husband. In a single calendar year, Beyoncé managed to reveal what seemed to be a lifetime’s worth of secrets and pain, without it being clear whether she had revealed anything at all. If anything, that only made people want more.

Conventional wisdom casts Beyoncé as a control freak, and perhaps she is, but control isn’t such a bad thing. Lately, I’ve been thinking about her bifurcated self in the context of somewhat-forgotten cyberfeminist theory. In the 1980s, academics believed that technology would introduce profound changes for humankind, especially women. Donna Haraway, emerita professor of the history of consciousness and feminist studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and an inspiration for cyberfeminism, wrote that new technologies could liberate women from patriarchy and other oppressive systems. In the distant future, she believed, people could assume virtual bodies, allowing for “permanently partial identities” that could exist beyond gender, beyond reproach and without limits.

The internet preserved many of the same biases and hierarchies Haraway so desperately hoped we could escape. And there are no true cyborgs yet. But social media has, in its own way, provided us a means of generating other selves. We just haven’t yet learned to set them free. Beyoncé has, in her own way. The Beyoncé we follow seems to live and breathe, and provokes a real emotional reaction. It’s an illusion that feels intimate and real, a hologram self for us to interact with that, in theory, provides the actual Beyoncé space to exist away from our prying eyes.

This isn’t a strategy that works for only the incredibly rich and famous. I believe it’s a useful way of thinking about how we could all behave online. Why fret about oversharing, or undersharing, or to what extent our online selves are true to our ac­tual self? We could instead use social media as a prism through which we can project only what we want others to see. We can save the rest for ourselves — our actual selves.

Beyoncé, Inc: How Airbnb, Warby Parker, And Others Are Finding Inspiration In Lemonade

July 17, 2016

Inspiration In Lemonade

A deep dive into how Beyoncé is wowing business executives—and 10 lessons every company can learn from her.

J.J. McCorvey 06.20.16


A thunderous bang quiets the roughly 40,000 fans who’ve gathered at Houston’s NRG Stadium. The lights click off, plunging the venue into darkness. A spotlight appears, silhouetting a figure on the stage. Beyoncé, sporting a wide-brimmed black hat and clad in a shimmering, rose-colored bodysuit, is flanked by a dozen dancers.

She starts bobbing her head along to the now-familiar twanging noise that opens her politically charged single “Formation.” It takes a few moments to notice that the sparkly image displayed across her chest is a black panther, baring white teeth through its roaring red mouth. “If you came to slay tonight, say, ‘I slay!’ ” she shouts. Her acolytes obey, screaming the words in unison as the music soars.

It’s around 9 p.m. on a Saturday night, and Beyoncé’s latest album, Lemonade, has been out for two weeks—almost to the hour. Unveiled during an April 23 HBO special that had been advertised as a “world premiere event” (with no further details), the 12-song collection was streamed 115 million times in the first six days alone. Each song has a unique music video, and together they make up a 65-minute film that weaves evocative imagery, wrenching poetry, and a rumored-to-be-autobiographical story line about infidelity. Lemonade debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart, making Beyoncé the first artist in history to hit the top spot—and also the first to debut at No. 1—with her first six albums.


Yes, Beyoncé knows how to slay. And her impact is much greater than even these statistics imply. She has become one of the world’s most distinctive brands, a single-name powerhouse. She’s not only redefining how artists market themselves, building an uncommonly loyal customer base known as the Beyhive, but her successes are reverberating more broadly across the business landscape, too—prompting a reevaluation of rules, tactics, and strategies as enterprises large and small consider the pros and cons of cultivating their own Lemonade moment.

Beyoncé’s career has both closely tracked the rise of the digital age (her first solo album, 2003’s Dangerously in Love, came out five weeks before the launch of MySpace) and encouraged its evolution. No pop star has better navigated the tectonic shifts in the music industry, from iTunes to YouTube, Facebook to Spotify. What’s more, she has traversed the ever-more-complex tendrils of global culture with cleverness, discipline, and sophistication. “As a product, she is incredibly consistent—every album, stage performance, video, interview, and marketing deal,” says Jonathan Mildenhall, chief marketing officer at Airbnb. “On top of that, she has something that not a lot of contemporary artists have, and that’s an understanding of how to evolve the brand. The brand of Beyoncé shapes and leads pop culture.”

Beyoncé is unique. (It helps to be one of the world’s great singers and performers.) But that doesn’t mean we all can’t learn from her moves. Not unlike Steve Jobs during his triumphant stewardship of Apple, Beyoncé offers a window into a new, more modern way of approaching the marketplace.

Find Your Leverage

The core of Beyoncé’s business is Parkwood Entertainment, a relatively small operation perched on an upper floor of an unremarkable office tower in an unglamorous neighborhood just south of Times Square. Parkwood’s employees quietly guide an enterprise that has an enormous impact: from music to film to ancillary businesses such as the exercise-clothing line Ivy Park that she recently debuted in collaboration with British retailer Topshop. Beyoncé is the CEO and has been known to sit in on meetings and walk from office to office to query her deputies on details of upcoming projects. “There’s nothing that happens in that organization, either businesswise or artistically, that Beyoncé doesn’t fully sit on top of,” says former HBO president of programming Michael Lombardo, who helped negotiate the Lemonade TV special. (Beyoncé and her team declined to speak on the record.)

Though Beyoncé’s label, Columbia Records (a subsidiary of Sony Music), is a partner in Parkwood, the company still approaches business like a startup, leveraging its scale in all kinds of ways.

One of Beyoncé’s key vehicles is video. As digital culture has become ever more fixated on moving images—at a conference last fall, Facebook ad exec Ted Zagat said he thinks in less than two years the platform will be mostly video—Beyoncé has intuitively grasped the form’s power. “I see music; it’s more than just what I hear,” she once said. “When I’m connected to something, I immediately see a visual or a series of images that are tied to a feeling or an emotion, a memory from my childhood, thoughts about life, my dreams, or my fantasies.”

When Beyoncé released the “Formation” single in February, the accompanying music video made powerful use of imagery nodding to issues of police brutality and black pride, including a particularly pointed shot of a young, hoodied black boy dancing in front of cops who have their hands raised. “[It’s] clearly reminiscent of ‘Hands up, don’t shoot,’ and instantly strikes a chord in us that generates emotion,” says Sophie Lebrecht, whose company, Neon Labs, analyzes images and predicts their virality. When people react emotionally to something, Lebrecht says, especially something visual, their instinct is to share it. And they did: A search for “Beyoncé Formation” on the GIF-indexing site Giphy yields more than 14,000 results.

Beyoncé has long experimented with ways to amplify video’s impact. With her second solo effort, 2006’s B’Day, she released an alternate “visual album” version that included a separate video for each track—something she would repeat with her self-titled 2013 album. In hindsight, it’s clear that Beyoncé was testing video’s potential, getting comfortable with the format in a post-MTV digital world as a way to expand her artistic vision and marketing muscle. Her 2008 song “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It),” with its Bob Fosse–inspired black-and-white video, is among the earliest—and biggest—examples of music-video-as-Internet meme, transforming the song from a hit into a phenomenon.

Lemonade is the next turn in this evolution, tapping name-brand music-video directors such as Mark Romanek and Jonas Åkerlund and collaborators like Serena Williams. “The role of video in pop culture is just going to get increasingly valuable for brands and content creators,” contends Airbnb’s Mildenhall, who increasingly relies on video to help promote prospective rentals and offer information about neighborhood amenities. “Video is the most important form of content for any brand that has a narrative they want to share. [When there’s] a visual narrative, it goes deeper and deeper into your own psychology.”

Own Your Narrative

Two years ago, Beyoncé appeared in another video. This one, however, she would have preferred nobody ever watched. Security-camera footage from inside an elevator at the Standard Hotel in New York, obtained by TMZ, caught Beyoncé’s younger sister, Solange Knowles, punching and kicking brother-in-law Jay Z as Beyoncé stood in the corner. Much of the ensuing speculation about the incident focused on the possibility that Jay Z might have cheated on Beyoncé, prompting Solange’s fury. The incident was an ultrarare breach in the famously guarded couple’s personal life.

Most successful brands deal with public blowback at some point. Recently, Chipotle has been scrambling to overcome fallout from a series of food-poisoning incidents, while Facebook is battling the perception that its news-feed system privileges liberal content over conservative posts. There are lots of ways to deal with these kinds of PR debacles, of course—crisis management is an entire public-relations subindustry. But Beyoncé’s response to the elevator video has been a fascinating experiment in PR disaster–as-opportunity narrative redefinition—a transformation of lemons into Lemonade.

Though she hasn’t explained the genesis of Lemonade or how much of it is truly autobiographical, many Beyoncé fans have read it as an album-length exploration of whatever led up to the elevator incident (and its aftermath). A big reason Lemonade has connected is that it makes fans feel closer to Beyoncé—like they’re part of her struggles rather than outside observers. Sure, she’s made a great piece of confessional art, but she’s also, by opening up her life (or at least appearing to), changed the story: No longer are fans gawking at gossip; they’re now emotionally invested themselves.

The effect has been to reclaim all that bad press and retroactively use it as part of the album’s narrative. “The marketing for Lemonade started back in that elevator,” says Kelly Schoeffel, director of brand innovation at advertising agency 72andSunny. “I don’t think we’ll ever know the truth [about what happened], and that’s part of the excitement of it all.” What’s more, Lemonade has made Beyoncé—not previously known for self-revelation—more human, strengthening the bond with her audience. Beyoncé’s example illuminates the potential of redefining the narrative, as well as the deftness it takes to make it work.

Don’t Be Afraid To Fire (Some Of) Your Fans

In the process of repairing one PR problem, Lemonade ended up generating a whole new controversy. Beyoncé has always been a strong voice for female empowerment, but she’s generally avoided political topics in her songs. With “Formation” and Lemonade—as well as her February Super Bowl performance, during which she appeared with dancers in Black Panther–inspired garb who formed a giant X and raised their fists, Black Power–style—the singer embraced stickier subject matter, wading into the Black Lives Matter movement, police shootings of unarmed black men (the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, and Eric Garner appear in the video for “Freedom,” Lemonade’s galvanizing, modern-day Negro spiritual), and other subjects.

Queen Bey

A by-the-numbers look at Beyoncé’s impact on everything from Red Lobster to lemon emojis—not to mention the Billboard charts


Albums sold in the U.S., including with Destiny’s Child


Hits on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart, including with Destiny’s Child


Lemon emojis used on Twitter the day after Lemonade came out—up from about 40,000 the day before the album’s release


Solo albums that hit the top spot on the Billboard 200, making her the only artist to reach No. 1 with their first six albums


Total plays of her track “Drunk in Love” on Spotify (as of May 27)


Average price for a Formation tour package that provides front-row seats and a preshow reception—but no meet-and-greet

1.8 million

People who attended the 126 concerts on her 2013–2014 Mrs. Carter World Tour, generating $212 million


Peak tweets-per-minute during her 2013 Super Bowl halftime show


Spike in weekend sales at Red Lobster following the release of “Formation,” which mentions the chain restaurant

115 million

Streams Lemonade racked up in its first six days. The album was also purchased 485,000 times

The backlash was immediate. Police groups organized protests and called for a boycott, and the FCC received a deluge of complaints, which the agency released online. “Up until last night, I was a fan of Beyoncé,” wrote one typical disgruntled viewer. Beyoncé didn’t retreat, which made sense from an artistic standpoint—but also, counterintuitively, from a business one.

“Don’t alienate your customers” seems like one of business’s givens. But sometimes taking a stand is the right move. Sure, Beyoncé might have lost some fans over her political statements, but she also no doubt earned new ones. And the loyalists who remain feel even more bonded to her. “The thing she does really well is understand the importance of true movement-building,” says Hugh Evans, cofounder and CEO of the Global Poverty Project, at whose Global Citizen Festival Beyoncé has performed for the past two years.

Target is going through something similar with its stand against transgender discrimination (the retailer announced in April that its customers could choose which bathroom to use based on their gender identity, a rebuke to the recent law in North Carolina). The ensuing outcry might hurt temporarily, but it is also likely to endear the company to customers who strongly support LGBT rights, contributing to a general sense that Target is a progressive brand worth patronizing. Harry Román-Torres, cohead of strategy at Droga5—which recently produced a campaign for Honey Maid that celebrated families of diverse ethnicities and sexual orientations—cautions that brands should only tackle polarizing issues if they have good reason to do so. “[Brands should] ask themselves, What’s my credibility in this space?” Román-Torres says. “What’s the currency we have in this, and what is my relevancy? If you don’t have those questions answered, then you shouldn’t touch these things.” Beyoncé wasn’t just diving into a hot-button topic to get attention. She and Jay Z have demonstrated interest in these issues, joining a crowd of hundreds in New York for a 2013 “Justice for Trayvon” protest and reportedly spending tens of thousands of dollars bailing protestors out of jail during uprisings in Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri.

At Beyoncé’s May 7 Houston concert, a police group protested nearby. Though a few news organizations picked up the protest story, it barely registered in the sold-out venue. The only visible sign of controversy was a quintessentially Beyoncéan reclaiming of the narrative: At the venue’s official merch tables—where fans scooped up posters and phone cases—the superstar was offering $45 T-shirts that screamed, in red all-caps block letters: boycott beyoncé. That ironic embrace of her detractors’ outrage might have been the loudest statement of the night.

Marketing Is A Product—And A Product Is Marketing

Traditionally, the promotion around a product release has existed on a separate plane from the product itself. With Lemonade, Beyoncé blurred the lines between them—to the advantage of both.

For Lemonade, Beyoncé orchestrated a clever strategy that combined the HBO special, the surprise album release, and the conversation-sparking music videos as a cohesive string of smaller parts that added up to something much bigger. “She developed a concept,” says Wieden+Kennedy managing director Neal Arthur. “Story line and concept become really important because it can play across different media. It played out on television. It plays out in video form. It plays out in social. It plays out in editorial.” (It even plays out on the red carpet: At this year’s Met Ball in May, Beyoncé wore a dress that, according to much Twitter speculation, might have contained subtle references to Lemonade’s now-infamous villain, “Becky.”)

As a result, Lemonade’s imagery, ideas, and sensibility have developed into its own brand—a shorthand for a certain emotional and cultural mind-set. In early May, Candice Benbow, a young doctoral student, made a free downloadable syllabus that lists hundreds of black and feminist authors and literary works to be used as a companion to Lemonade. Soon #LemonadeSyllabus was trending on Twitter, and 40,000 people downloaded it in less than a week.

Lemonade is bigger than a mere product: It’s a cultural space that fans feel a part of. That approach has proven highly successful for other brands, Apple being perhaps the most prominent example. Eyeglass purveyor Warby Parker, another practitioner, has created a recognizable sensibility—young, smart, design-driven—that defines everything it does. “We’re experience-focused but medium-agnostic, from the moment somebody thinks about the brand: their decision to shop, waiting on the frames to arrive, understanding that [if you buy a pair] another pair goes to somebody in need,” says Neil Blumenthal, Warby’s cofounder and co-CEO. “Similarly, Beyoncé thinks about the entirety of the experience.”

Create Urgency

“Surprise!” With that single word—posted to her Instagram account at midnight on December 13, 2013—Beyoncé changed the music business. Accompanying the text was a video clip promoting the singer’s self-titled fifth album, which she’d just secretly dropped on iTunes.

It was a bold move for a superstar artist. No prerelease hype, no late-night TV appearances, no magazine covers, no advertising, no fanfare whatsoever. And yet this unusual approach was brilliantly tailored to the new realities of how information gets disseminated online. With hype-weary consumers increasingly wary of prerelease marketing, Beyoncé circumvented buildup fatigue by ditching it altogether.

In the days before the album came out, the singer’s team visited Facebook’s headquarters to negotiate a deal for the platform to alert users as soon as the album hit iTunes. The ensuing excitement felt like something new. “She’s changed the way superstar artists have looked at dropping music,” says Steve Stoute, founder and CEO of brand marketing firm Translation and a former record-company executive who once worked at Columbia Records, Beyoncé’s label. “That element of surprise and getting it all at once—she found a way for artists to do that digitally.” In the first 12 hours after the album came out, it was the subject of roughly 1.2 million tweets, and it became iTunes’ fastest-selling album of all time. Soon other big stars—including Drake and Kendrick Lamar—adopted the surprise-album model.

Of course, that sort of release works best for well-established brands—and it certainly helps if what you’re hawking is a genuinely great product. But the concept is really about something much broader: creating urgency. To make consumers covet a new product, brands need to convince them they’ll be missing out on a cultural moment if they don’t participate. It’s all about shared experience: Most people want to be part of the conversation.

Stoute points to Nike as a master of this strategy. The shoe company has learned how to build buzz by producing high-end, limited-edition sneakers that have fans queuing up for hours. Sales from these connoisseur offerings are less the point than the excitement that trickles down to the company’s mass-produced wares. In January, customers braved near-arctic temperatures in cities like Chicago and Philadelphia, forming blocks-long lines just to snag a pair of Air Jordan Retro 2 “Just Don” sneakers (retail price: $650). Nike limits production to ensure the sneakers sell out fast—and get huge attention on Instagram.

With Lemonade, Beyoncé again created must-have excitement. Rather than repeating her previous album’s surprise release, she tweaked the formula, finding a new tactic by partnering with HBO for the special. As Steve Jobs proved, the best way to keep your brand relevant is to continually intrigue your customers. She even connected her high-wire project to cultural hotbed Game of Thrones, which had its season premiere on HBO the same weekend. Notes 72andSunny’s Schoeffel: “It is so hard to surprise people these days, you know?” But that’s exactly what happened.

Beyoncé, onstage in Atlanta, is inspiring brands far beyond the music world. Photo: Kevin Mazur, WireImage, Getty Images

Take Risks—With Discipline

When disruption hits, some businesses cling to the old, hoping to ride things out. Others race to the new without fully comprehending the implications. Beyoncé straddles both approaches.

The music business has been in a state of disruptive chaos for years, and lately, confusion has only accelerated as listeners have rushed to adopt streaming—leaving artists, labels, and music-download retailers struggling to adjust. In the same way Facebook and Apple use their clout to influence behavior, some music superstars have tried to push the industry in new directions. Taylor Swift yanked all of her content from Spotify in protest of its free-tier model, which she believes deprives artists of income. Other artists have signed exclusive deals that limit highly sought-after albums to a single outlet (such as Drake and Radiohead, whose recent albums were initially only available on Apple Music). Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo, which came out in February, was originally intended as an exclusive on the streaming service Tidal. West tweeted that Pablo “will never never never be on Apple. And it will never be for sale,” which drove new users to sign up for Tidal. Six weeks later, West reneged on both promises, prompting a class-action lawsuit. “In the model of exclusivity, the fans get lost in the process,” Stoute says. “Big companies are fighting for market share, forcing fans to make a decision by holding their favorite artists hostage.”

Because she is married to Tidal’s primary owner and is herself an investor in the business, Beyoncé easily could have fallen into the Kanye West hole. But with Lemonade, she forged a smarter strategy. Nobody would have been surprised if the album had been a pure Tidal exclusive. But she realized that you don’t have to disrupt everything to be disruptive, and as aggressive as she’s been taking risks with her marketing, she’s also recognized that if you go too far, you’re more likely to cause problems than to reap rewards.

Beyoncé’s fan-friendly compromise: Though Tidal was the only place to stream Lemonade, it was widely available a short time later as a download on iTunes, Amazon, and elsewhere. And unlike most HBO content, the Lemonade TV special wasn’t walled off from nonsubscribers either. That weekend’s programming was open to every cable subscriber, and Lemonade was also available via a 30-day free trial on HBO Now. The strategy worked. Beyoncé steered fans to Tidal, which attracted 1.2 million new users (including free trials) in the week after Lemonade’s debut; the album and its songs became iTunes best sellers.

Opportunity Comes From Within

Beyoncé’s career has had several inflection points where she’s boosted herself to a new level of popularity and cultural clout. Surprisingly, those moments haven’t always come when she’s reached out to the mainstream. Instead, she’s often defined herself by making unconventional choices.

Her first solo album, after Destiny’s Child had evolved into a pop-chart juggernaut, was a return to hip-hop and R&B, which both distinguished her from her group’s recent work and helped define the kind of solo artist she wanted to be. Lemonade, similarly, is not just a personal album in terms of subject matter; it also explores sounds and themes that are less targeted at broad audiences. She’s emphasized a distinctive artistic vision—not what focus groups and big data might predict—and it’s worked: People are talking about Lemonade not because Beyoncé is reaching out, but because she’s looking within.

It’s an approach that applies beyond the music world. GE vice chair Beth Comstock has recently grappled with a tension between her brand’s heritage and a desire to reach the broadest possible audience. The result has been a series of clever (and much-discussed) ads in which the company gently tweaks its own fuddy-duddy image—and in the process makes itself seem cooler. “For us it’s being comfortable with who you are,” says Comstock. “We decided that at this stage as a company and brand, we’re just geeks. That’s who we are. I like the word vulnerable. You don’t think of that in terms of branding because everybody thinks brands have to be perfect: so packaged, so produced. And in some ways Beyoncé got that right—she’s so well packaged. At the same time, she exposed herself to some criticism. She’s opened herself up to a lot of scrutiny. Brands have to be more open—there’s a vulnerability. You’re saying to people, ‘Come with me, I’m going to go figure it out.’ People want to know you’re not perfect.”

Courage Takes Planning

Multiplatform triumphs like Lemonade aren’t just rare for creative reasons: They’re also expensive. Creating an epic 65-minute film along with an album requires major front-end investment with no guarantee it will ever pay off. It’s a situation companies often face: Do we have enough faith in this vision to accept the risk involved?

Taking big leaps isn’t just about guts; it also requires careful planning. Beyoncé’s 2012 endorsement deal with Pepsi is a powerful example. She had worked with Pepsi previously, but this time broadened the partnership to include a multimillion-dollar “creative development fund” that she could tap for various projects—Pepsi-related or otherwise. Neither Beyoncé nor Parkwood have confirmed that money from this fund went toward Lemonade, but what’s important is less the specifics of the Pepsi deal than the foresight it indicates. As a business, you need to build the likely necessity of future risk-taking into your strategy from the start.

Play The Long Game

Beyoncé has avoided the kind of slap-your-name-on-it partnerships that many celebrities favor. Instead, she responds to opportunities where her marketing and cultural know-how can add legitimate value. Ivy Park, the line of stylish performance wear that she launched with Topshop in April, could have been a one-off collaboration, but Beyoncé opted to form a joint company, Parkwood Topshop Athletic—and she reportedly tried on each one of the 220 items herself during the design process. “It would have been easy for Beyoncé to jump on the athleisure bandwagon, quickly bang a collection out, and ride the hype,” says Clare Varga, active director at U.K.-based fashion consultancy WGSN. “But they took their time finding the right designers from performance-sport backgrounds and invested in design and R&D. She’s playing a longer game.”

Her discipline has prompted Beyoncé to walk away from deals, too. In late 2010, the singer pulled out of a planned video game called Starpower: Beyoncé because, she claimed, the developer had not secured the level of financing that she’d expected. That precipitated a lawsuit (which was settled out of court). She chose to deal with the controversy rather than attach her name to what she feared would be an inferior product.

Make Your Own Lemonade

As Beyoncé’s first stadium-only headlining tour continues across the country—with her perfectionism on glorious display—it’s not a stretch to wonder what her restless mind is planning to do next. How do you top Lemonade? What will be as electrifying, as unexpected and game-changing and awe-inspiring?

“We’re asking ourselves, ‘So what’s our Lemonade?’ ” says Airbnb chief marketing officer Jonathan Mildenhall. “Because we don’t ever want to become predictable.”

She isn’t the only one wrestling with those kinds of questions. Throughout the business world, marketers are looking at Lemonade’s success and wondering how to concoct something similarly effective and iconic. “We’re asking ourselves, ‘So what’s our Lemonade?’ ” says Airbnb’s Mildenhall. “Because we don’t ever want to become predictable. Every time we engage with our consumers, our target audience, our community, we want to surprise them, to inspire them, to delight them. And we want to do it in a way that then drives a disproportionate share of popular conversation.”

And that’s really what it all comes down to—owning the moment. Beyoncé’s vision and business acumen are inspiring people far outside the music world, challenging executives to up their game and offering an example of how they can better cut through the overwhelming information roar of our ever-noisier culture. “Since it came out, pretty much every creative presentation I’ve seen has had some reference to it,” says 72andSunny’s Schoeffel. “It’s really interesting to see—overnight—a work of art just rock the way creative minds think. It gets your competitive and creative juices fired up. It’s made a lot of us pick our heads up and be like, ‘We have to try harder.’

Why Beyoncé Has Stopped Doing Interviews

October 6, 2015

The woman with all the answers simply does not answer to anyone.
By Jia Tolentino Sept/oct

Beyoncé has achieved the American Dream. Not just the money part, although she’s reportedly worth $450 million. Not just accruing property, although her newborn daughter is said to have a nursery suite in Barclays Center that costs $1 million per year. Not even just the dream about the perfect family, though her “Drunk in Love” duet with Jay Z at the 2014 Grammys revived the institution of marriage in a way unmatched until SCOTUS cast a rainbow over history this year. No: on top of all this, there’s one American Dream that Beyoncé claims almost uniquely, a type of power that eludes even (and especially) the very powerful, summed up best by a sentence in a New York Times article from May 2015: “Beyoncé, a representative explained, has not answered any direct questions for more than a year.”

Her representative meant questions from journalists, presumably. (The Times article was about her vegan meal delivery service; Beyoncé supposedly “dodged” phone calls for a month before finally opening her email correspondence with: “It’s important you know I’m not a vegan.”) For a pop star—and a female one—to not only make herself unavailable to the New York Times but also to insist, as she did when Amy Wallace profiled her for GQ in 2013, that she be the one to record her interviews with journalists, it’s a remarkable refusal. While the President of the United States is going on podcasts and doing Twitter Q&As, Beyoncé has simply stopped answering questions altogether. She’s a woman from whom everyone wants everything, yet she does not have to answer to anyone at all.

This is also, of course, the basic definition of a queen. And the name Queen Bey feels barely hyperbolic for Beyoncé, who is outsized and legendary not by lineage but by her own will and design. She commands her Beyhive, the most rabid fan base in existence; she inspires Illuminati jokes that don’t feel entirely like jokes; she signifies such broad sexual power that bell hooks called her both “slave” and “terrorist.” While black women in America are still politically erased and economically devalued to a degree that makes every exception notable, Beyoncé—rich, powerful, seemingly invulnerable, and nearly universally celebrated, desired, and admired—seems both to forecast a better future and to bring it closer within reach.

Through a decade where the nature of pop celebrity has shifted wildly, Beyoncé has won her position by exerting an unprecedented level of control. She dictates the means of production: there was the legendary surprise album drop, its production surely requiring a forest of NDAs. She manages her image compulsively, Instagramming constantly but only ever tweeting eight times. She will refuse to do interviews even for her own cover stories, as she did with T magazine in 2014. She was on this year’s coveted September cover of Vogue, but gave no quotes; instead, the accompanying story was populated by praise from collaborators and friends. She swerves her narratives: though people still whisper that she faked her pregnant belly with Blue, she shut down rumors of a second pregnancy with a single uncaptioned photo posted to her Tumblr in which she sat on Jay Z’s lap and drank a bowl-size glass of red wine. And, by releasing an extended promo reel and calling it an “HBO documentary” (2013’s Life Is But a Dream), she made it clear that her story is not a conversation but a monologue. Willing to present herself but never explain, Beyoncé is an object lesson in the specific, underused power of sheer withholding; she’s also a reminder of how long and perfectly you have to grind to even get to a place where you can give this tactic a try.

Beyoncé, after all, has spent three times as much time in the music business as the eight years that God gave her to get ready. (And when those eight years were up, they were up: her dad used to make her run a morning mile while singing to build up her endurance.) At 33, she’s a better vocalist and dancer than anyone else working, with her phenomenal natural talent continually honed by the fact that she’s such a professional—and/or perfectionist—that she watches concert footage after every show, like an athlete reviewing tape. She said, in her GQ profile, that she critiques herself, her outfits, her hair, her dancers, and her cameramen in her hotel room and that, in the morning after the show, everyone gets their notes.

The control Beyoncé exerts on her image and narrative is self-perpetuating. She has arranged her looks, angles, abilities, and performances so that the biggest possible crack will still be infinitesimal; she has fixed media expectations so that everyone knows that Queen Bey is going to detachedly get her way. The effect, in practice, is flawlessness, which further enlarges her legend: as she becomes even more legendary, she gains ever-increasing power to further her own control.

This feedback loop can be somewhat terrifying. As the American political machine gears up for its next presidential election, Beyoncé’s self-produced, self-directed documentary seems to foreshadow a world in which we get a pre-packaged narrative or nothing at all. But Beyoncé, like any contemporary politician, is careful; she’s pinned her name to fundamental ideals. Who can argue with sex, money, hard work, family, and hip-hop? Who can argue with feminism when it’s Beyoncé proclaiming it? After the 2014 VMAs performance that felt like the crown jewel in her PR strategy—her royal body silhouetted against the word “FEMINIST” written sky-high—she seemed far above the “is she or isn’t she” identity-politics games that play out on the internet. The image was indelible, and Beyoncé didn’t have to explain exactly what she meant.

It’s by sticking to images, ultimately, that Beyoncé’s iron-fistedness will help her last. On her Instagram account, she wordlessly conveys the personality that came out in early interviews, the shy girl with an electric undercurrent of ego. Sometimes she’ll post a photo that looks doctored, like her thigh gap was carved out in Photoshop. But who would be surprised by that? It’s part of Beyoncé’s genius that, to some extent, she’s open about the fact that her perfection is won with considerable effort. “Pretty Hurts” and “Flawless” managed a trick that, today, perhaps only Taylor Swift can replicate: using vulnerability to signal solidarity with her audience while simultaneously asserting her supremacy over all. The strategy has a good amount of duplicity baked in—pretty hurts, maybe, but it sure seems to be working for her. Still, as Swift and Beyoncé both prove, we’re happy to settle for heavily crafted intimacy; replicating their strategies on our own Instagrams and iPhones, we’re increasingly unable to distinguish that intimacy from any other kind.

The incident in which Beyoncé’s supreme image control revealed itself to be essentially beyond public comprehension was the elevator fight—that grainy footage, appearing to show her famous sister lashing out at her famous husband as Beyoncé stood silently in the corner. Whether she was in shock or performing, there was no crack in her demeanor, even when the family exited the elevator: Beyoncé’s smile was set, as it frequently is in public, to an almost chemical calm. Anyone clamoring for a different response from Beyoncé after the incident—something real, but in an ugly way for once—would get nothing; eventually, her family issued a terse and informationless three-sentence statement. Then, a few months later, Beyoncé mentioned the incident on the Nicki Minaj remix of “Flawless.” Of course sometimes shit go down when there’s a billion dollars on an elevator. Rumors about the incident were still floating—infidelity, divorce—but rumors are always floating about Beyoncé, and her non-explanations always override them. Today, no one talks about the elevator anymore. Among all the ways Beyoncé’s control works for her, this is the realest: when you don’t answer direct questions, you can’t lie. You never have to.

Beyoncé Repackaged for the Holidays

November 24, 2014

Beyoncé ‘Platinum Edition’ Adds New Songs and Remixes

BEN SISARIO 11/23/14

Last December, Beyoncé surprised her fans with a new, self-titled album, which after only three weeks sold 1.3 million copies, making it one of the top sellers of the year.

This week, Beyoncé and her label, Columbia, will sell the album all over again.

An expanded “Platinum Edition” goes on sale Monday. In addition to the original album’s two discs, it will have a CD with two new songs and four remixes, as well as a live DVD and a 2015 Beyoncé calendar. The price: about $28.

“Platinum Edition” is only the latest example of the music industry’s long tradition of repackaging hit albums with some extra content to keep sales going. Many such releases come out this week to capitalize on holiday shopping. Iggy Azalea’s recent album “The New Classic” will get a new iteration, “Reclassified”; the band Paramore will put out a deluxe version of its self-titled album from last year.

Also this week, Eminem’s label, Shady, will release “Shady XV,” with one disc of new material and another of hits over the last 15 years; and Coldplay will release a live CD-DVD version of its newest record, “Ghost Stories.”

Beyoncé’s “Platinum Edition” goes on sale on Monday.

“It’s always been going on,” said Chris Brown of Bull Moose, a chain of 11 record stores in New England. “What may be new is that it’s a lot more noticeable when Beyoncé does it than however many times Slipknot did it in the ’90s.”

In a year of depressed music sales, stocking-stuffer rereleases can give an album a second wind of sales. Billboard magazine and the tracking service Nielsen SoundScan will count sales of Beyoncé’s “Platinum Edition” as part of the original album’s total, which currently stands at 2.1 million and is the fourth-biggest seller of 2014 so far.

Repackagings, when done well, can prove popular with fans, and lately record companies have been putting a lot of effort into overstuffed “super-deluxe” reissues. This month Columbia/Legacy released a six-disc version of Bob Dylan’s “Basement Tapes,” and in June the first three volumes of Warner Music’s complete Led Zeppelin reissues all opened in the Top 10.

“I’d buy an extra copy of ‘Sgt. Pepper’ if it had one outtake on it,” Mr. Brown said.

But are the extras on Beyoncé’s album enough to make fans buy it all over again? Time will tell, said Ish Cuebas, the vice president for music merchandising at Trans World Entertainment, whose more than 300 stores includes the F.Y.E. chain.

“Is it worth the money for somebody to buy this just to get a calendar and those additional tracks?” he asked. Demand so far was light, he said. But he added, “I’m not going to bet against Beyoncé.”

Here’s why Beyoncé hasn’t used Twitter since August 2013

November 10, 2014

Stuart Dredge 11/05/14

Beyoncé has 13.7 million followers on Twitter, but her account is mothballed: it has only ever tweeted eight times, and the last one was on 19 August 2013. Yesterday, I got to find out why, by interviewing Lauren Wirtzer-Seawood on-stage at the Web Summit conference in Dublin.

She handles digital strategy for Beyoncé’s Parkwood Entertainment, a company that’s part management firm, part digital agency and part creative studio for its founder, president and CEO: Beyoncé Knowles.

Wirtzer-Seawood’s job thus encompasses social networks, Beyoncé’s own website, and partnerships – as part of the close-knit Parkwood team – of the kind that saw her boss’ last album shock the music industry and fans alike with a surprise iTunes release in December 2013.

On social networking, then. “We take a very strategic approach to platforms. Primarily we use Facebook and Instagram at this point,” said Wirtzer-Seawood. “Instagram is something that Beyoncé most of the time uses directly herself: she posts pictures. It’s her way of communicating to fans a little bit of what her personal life is like.”

So Instagram is essentially a “personal communications tool” for the star, while Facebook is used more for promotional purposes. “We’re very careful not to be too salesy in anything that we do,” stressed Wirtzer-Seawood. “That’s not the kind of relationship that Beyoncé has with her fans. She wants it to be organic, and she wants it to really come from her. And it does.”

But no Twitter. “Currently, we don’t use Twitter at all. It is a personal choice. I think as an artist, Beyoncé really prefers to communicate in images. It’s very hard to say what you want to say in 140 characters,” said Wirtzer-Seawood. “This is just a personal preference to her at this time. But also the Twitter channels are so crowded: it’s a different kind of experience that the fan has…”

One of the most interesting parts of her role at Parkwood is keeping clued-in on new social networks and apps as they emerge, including messaging apps from WhatsApp and Snapchat to Line and Kakao in Asia. But Wirtzer-Seawood warned that none of them will be adopted lightly.

“I would never open an account and not expect that we can continue to fill that channel forever: that it will continue to grow, and we’ll need to continue to fill it. That’s a huge responsibility,” she said.

“Beyoncé is a bit of a fringe case, and it’s not the same for all artists, celebrities or brands. But I find it really frustrating and annoying to see when somebody launches something new, whether it’s a new Facebook account or a new Snapchat account, and they do it for a period of time, then they go away for six months. It’s frustrating as a fan. I want to make sure if we use them, we use them well, and we use them strategically and we continue to fill the channel for a long time.”

Naturally, the last album launch cropped up in the conversation. Wirtzer-Seawood said it was a deliberate effort to present “a body of work” to fans without having it pre-judged or criticised by the media. “Giving this full package to the consumer allowed them to hear all of the content in the way that she wanted it to be heard, in the way she wanted it to be experienced,” she said.

There were quite a few people involved, with videos shot during Beyoncé’s tour, but “a very small group” knew all the moving parts: a team shooting one video wouldn’t know that a completely different team was shooting another, or that the video was for an album to be released so soon. Apple was a key partner, and as ‘partners able to keep a secret’ go, it’s one of the better ones.

beyonce album cover small P“It was essential to the process, working with a team that also understood the value of maintaining a very small group of people who kept the secret, and understood how valuable it was to record sales ultimately,” said Wirtzer-Seawood.

We also talked about data during the Web Summit session: Wirtzer-Seawood worked at social games company Zynga for a couple of years before Parkwood, which she said gave her an appreciation of the value of gathering, analysing and acting on big data – but also a sense of the potential hazards.

“We pay very very close attention to data. I’m more interested in data than probably most people I know in the business, after spending a couple of years at Zynga,” she said. “I’m a little bit more keen on the importance of data and how to use it. I make sure I deep-dive into every piece of content… and really try to use that information in a meaningful way.”

She warned against the risks of simply collecting data without making sense of it, or in the case of artists, accepting the data given to them by their label without questioning what it means.

“Oftentimes bands will have access to something that the label might give them with topline information on YouTube and Vevo and Facebook and whatever else, but they don’t actually tell you what the data means, and why it’s important,” she said.

“It’s one of the reasons our website is so valuable. Although we have the social platforms, we also have, which is a place where I can really dig deep into that data and figure out who the fans are and what they’re sharing, and how to communicate with them really effectively. Data is key.”

What data doesn’t do is influence the creative work itself: Wirtzer-Seawood isn’t going into meetings with Beyoncé and suggesting that her next album be 12 more Drunk In Loves, but with 10 more beats-per-minute and a mention of the word ‘ring’ in every chorus, because the data suggests that will be popular.

Unthinkable? Yes, but one thing Zynga was criticised for in the past was that its data was exerting too much influence over its games: the creative product. “At Zynga I was exposed to the importance of data, and they had so much detail,” said Wirtzer-Seawood, stressing that this was a positive thing. “But what oftentimes would happen: it seemed like some creative decisions were based on that data.” Which was not so positive.

“You take the data, so that when Beyoncé comes in and says ‘hey, I have something new for you to market or sell or communicate, I can say ‘I know who’s going to want to use that and share it’,” she said.

What is Beyoncé like as a boss? “She’s brilliant: she’s a creative genius, she knows who she is, and she has definitive opinions about all things related to creative. Anything that you see posted to the public has gone through her approval. Every single item,” said Wirtzer-Seawood. And all of that content has been created in-house at Parkwood.

I wondered how YouTube and video fits in to the Beyoncé digital strategy? Her deal with Columbia means that her official music videos go onto a Vevo-branded channel, but there is a separate Beyoncé YouTube channel for other kinds of clips: “Anything that’s not a music video: something backstage at a concert, or a charity event that we’ve done,” said Wirtzer-Seawood.

Interestingly, though, Facebook native video – uploading videos to Facebook itself rather than posting YouTube videos on the social network – has become a big priority for Beyoncé’s team.

“A couple of months ago, I noticed that the traction of Facebook native video increased exponentially. I would say May or so to July. So I started to upload quite a bit more content as a native to our channel, and saw unbelievably impressive results,” she said.

“So much so, that I asked the Facebook team to make the view counts public, because a fan can be much more inclined to watch a video with 70 million views than 270! And as of last month, Facebook made view counts public, so that everybody can see that.”

For example, a recent video of a performance from Beyoncé’s HBO special has been watched more than 11.2 million times. “We’ve had great success with it, but again, we don’t flood the channel with stuff that won’t be really important to fans,” she said. “It’s about the right content: things that people want to see, and which are relevant and authentic to the Beyoncé brand.”

That said, YouTube remains important as a “secondary support channel” because, as Wirtzer-Seawood put it: “YouTube is a place for video, and if you search for something that is a Facebook native

it’s virtually impossible to find it.”

All of these Facebook views are organic, rather than paid-for: Parkwood isn’t juicing its views through Facebook ads, which bucks the trend of digital marketers fretting about declining organic reach for their posts. But isn’t Beyoncé an outlier in that regard? “Yeah,” said Wirtzer-Seawood. “I think it’s the nature of the fanbase. She has around 70 million Facebook fans: it’s a huge number, and the fans really want content all the time.”

Might they want that content delivered through an official Beyoncé mobile app? As things stand, there isn’t one, and that’s another decision taken by Parkwood after considering the technology options and fan behaviour patterns (data, again).

“The problem with an app is very similar to what I was mentioning before about newer social channels. If an artist is going to develop an app, it has to be compelling content that they continue to feed, day-in day-out, on a regular basis. And that is very hard to do,” said Wirtzer-Seawood.

“For most artists, they don’t have content available every single day. They finish the tour, and so there’s nothing there! An app ends up becoming this place for Twitter feeds to be pulled in, and it gets quite boring.”

But she also questioned whether fans want dedicated apps for their favourite stars. “As a fan, if I’m 15 years old and i have five artists that I love, am I going to download those five apps and switch between each app as I want see what’s going on? No. I’m going to still be on Instagram and Snapchat and perhaps Facebook, and i’m going to consume all their content anyway,” she said.

“I don’t really know at the moment whether there is a place for an artist-focused app in the ecosystem. If it does get to that point, it has to be something that clearly hasn’t been done before and is compelling in lots of ways.”

Beyoncé Liberated

October 6, 2014

By Aaron Hicklin 4/18/14

If you pooled the collective memories of the staff at Parkwood, the small, can-do entertainment company that Beyoncé built, you would have enough material for the world’s longest biography. That it would also be a hagiography goes without saying; for those who work closest to her, Beyoncé is, quite literally, flawless. Again and again you will hear that she is the hardest-working person in showbiz, the most demanding of herself, the least complacent. And all of this, you will realize, is most likely true. But in all of the accolades and glowing character references, you will also find little shafts of light that fall on their subject in illuminating and lovely ways.
There is Angie Beyince, vice president of operations, who grew up spending her summers with her cousins, Beyoncé and Solange. “They loved Janet Jackson,” she tells me. “We’d talk all night and watch Showtime at the Apollo and my snake, Fendi, would just be crawling around. He’d sit on our heads while we watched TV.”
There is Ed Burke, visual director, who had never heard of Beyoncé when he met her 10 years ago, responding to a request from a friend to shoot her for a day. He spent the next seven years trailing her around the world with a camera. In Egypt, he and Beyoncé scaled a pyramid together as the rest of their group gave up or fell back. “It smelled like urine because there are no bathrooms up there,” he recalls. “She looked like Mother Teresa, wearing this white dress and a head wrap, and when we got to the top she sang Donny Hathaway’s ‘A Song for You.’ ”
There is Ty Hunter, her stylist, who was working at Bui-Yah-Kah, a boutique in Houston, when he first met Beyoncé’s mother, Miss Tina, on the hunt for outfits for Destiny’s Child. The two clicked. That was in 1998. “Miss Tina reminded me of my mother,” he says. “I call Bey and Solange and all the girls in Destiny’s Child my sisters. The family is just, you know, humble—not what people think it is. The picture [of Beyoncé] is ‘diva, diva, diva,’ but I’ve been here this long because she’s not.”
There is Lee Anne Callahan-Longo, the general manager at Parkwood, whose Boston childhood was informed by the music of Carole King, James Taylor, and Carly Simon. It was Callahan-Longo who came up with the arm motions that Beyoncé uses in her video for “XO.” “It’s so hilarious—I have a credit in the DVD for choreography,” she laughs, throatily. “If anyone knows me, I’m not a dancer. Never have been and never will be.”

And there is Yvette Noel-Schure, the publicist, a kind of den mother to them all. She grew up on the Caribbean island of Grenada, and has a soft, floral accent to prove it. “The only music in the house was Catholic hymns,” she recalls. “Once in a while I heard some calypso on the radio.” Noel-Schure was with Destiny’s Child in Los Angeles on September 11, 2001, when news of the attacks on New York and D.C. reached them. “My mom’s not here, so I guess you’re our mommy today,” she remembers Beyoncé telling her. “And I said, ‘My kid’s not here, so I think you guys have to be my kids today.’” She breaks into a faraway smile. “With or without this job, I will probably always feel connected to those young women in some way, shape, or form.”
If you want to get to know someone, it helps to get to know the people around them. In Beyoncé’s case, there was no alternative. The opportunity to write about her materialized with an unusual condition: There would be no face-to-face interview. The musician was in the midst of an intense international tour, dramatically overhauled to accommodate 10 songs from her new, eponymous album. And although I would get to fly to Glasgow to see her perform the revised set, I would have to settle for an email exchange for this story. But—and this was the silver lining—I would have unprecedented access to Parkwood Entertainment, the tight-knit, furiously devoted team at the heart of Brand Beyoncé. This was more than a concession—this was being invited into Bey’s inner sanctum.
That sanctum is hidden in a nondescript Midtown office block in New York, high enough to have good views of the city, and a short walk from Macy’s. Decorated like a boutique hotel—plush sectional sofas, hardwood floors, an enormous contemporary chandelier—the most visible sign of Beyoncé are the 17 Grammys that line one end of the conference room and a cool portrait of a young Michael Jackson, her idol. It was in that room, on the night of December 12 last year, that the staff at Parkwood (named for the street Beyoncé grew up on) gathered to mark the countdown to the surprise release of Beyoncé, her fifth album. For such a solid hitmaker, the new material was a departure, suffused with a raw, earthy sexuality that was more personal than fans were used to—and less polished. And by managing to keep the album under wraps until the moment of its release, Beyoncé was able to do something that has become all too rare for a global star: control the way in which her fans experienced her music. It’s hard to remember a major album of the past few years that wasn’t leaked in advance, or that didn’t reach the critics and overly opinionated bloggers before it reached the fans. As Noel-Schure likes to say, “Perception unchallenged becomes reality.” That’s actually a line from Motown: The Musical, but when she heard it earlier this year, it resonated. “The Internet is equivalent to a nice big jar of glue,” she tells me in her office. “It doesn’t go away.”

But there is a corollary to this: The Internet is one big beehive—or BeyHive, as Queen Bey’s vocal, possessive fans are dubbed. Like Lady Gaga’s Little Monsters, they are a powerful force if you know how to use them. In the 12 hours after its surprise release, the new album generated 1.2 million tweets, reaching a high of 5,300 tweets per minute at its peak. Within three days, Beyoncé had sold 828,773 digital copies, making it the fastest-selling album ever in the iTunes store (the fact that it was an iTunes exclusive helped; in response, Amazon and Target refused to stock the CD, a pissing contest they will likely not risk a second time. Amazon has since relented; Target hasn’t.). In the following weeks and months it would be augmented by a tsunami of viral fan stunts: three grandmas reading the lyrics to “Drunk in Love” (and confusing Jay Z for Kanye West in the process); the a cappela outfit Pentatonix abbreviating the entire album into a brilliant six-minute medley; and the inevitable appropriation of lyrics into the everyday vernacular. Right now, “I woke up like this—flawless” and “surfbort” seem to be tracking nicely to be on par with “put a ring on it” or “bootylicious.” (It’s a testament to Parkwood’s canniness that they had Flawless and Surfboard sweatshirts ready to sell soon after the album’s release.) And all of this was achieved without resorting to the traditional marketing machine: the endless rounds of interviews, the elaborate release parties, the in-store promotions. Instead, by appealing directly to the people who mattered most—the fans—Beyoncé and her team at Parkwood conquered the age-old challenge of politicians, business titans, and Hollywood moguls: to control the message.
But there was something else, too. Beyoncé was designed to be the most personal statement of the musician’s career, an album not crafted to fulfill the usual dictates of the industry. Beyoncé, in an emailed response to one of my questions, described the process as “much freer than anything I’d done in the past. We really just tried to trust our instincts, embrace the moment, and keep it fun.” As an illustration she singled out the video for “Drunk in Love,” a fan favorite. “We were in Miami for Jay’s concert, and it was just the two of us, on the beach, amazing weather, and one outfit! It’s beautiful in its simplicity. If you want something to feel real and urgent, you can’t overthink it.”
Of course, other artists—Adele comes to mind—have shown that the more visceral and personal an album, the less there is a need for bells and whistles. But Adele was still building her career when she released 21, and had less to lose. For Beyoncé, after 10 years at the top, the most obvious direction to go was down. Instead, with the aid of her stealth team, she pulled off a career high. “I really feel that 20 years from now—50 years from now—people will remember December 13, 2013,” Noel-Schure says. “People are going to remember because it will have shifted the way business is done in the record industry.”
This may seem like so much hot air in an industry that thrives on it, but you need only compare Beyoncé’s game plan to Lady Gaga’s, with Artpop, to realize just how successfully Beyoncé has managed to insulate herself from the brutal cycle of hype and backlash that has become the industry norm.
Out: Your new album is also your most sexually liberated project. The confidence and maturity and the fantasy speak to women almost as if in code. How do you create this conversation?
Beyoncé: I’d like to believe that my music opened up that conversation. There is unbelievable power in ownership, and women should own their sexuality. There is a double standard when it comes to sexuality that still persists. Men are free and women are not. That is crazy. The old lessons of submissiveness and fragility made us victims. Women are so much more than that. You can be a businesswoman, a mother, an artist, and a feminist—whatever you want to be—and still be a sexual being. It’s not mutually exclusive.
It is a Friday night in February in Glasgow, Scotland, and the wind is whipping brutally around the corners of the Hilton, where team C of Beyoncé’s tour group is staying (team B is in the more charming Malmaison Hotel; the whereabouts of team A, which presumably includes Beyoncé, are a closely guarded secret). I have arrived from New York that morning, and after a quick excursion for a sandwich and a coffee, I make my way along the rain-lashed highway to the Hydro arena, where Beyoncé has been rehearsing for most of the day.

Although it is technically the 110th date of her eye-popping extravaganza the Mrs. Carter Show, it is only the second night of her dramatically revamped lineup. A few nights earlier she pulled an all-nighter to rehearse her new material before dashing to London for a last-minute appearance at the Brit Awards, only to dash back—still in her ball gown—to finish choreographing the show. This was no minor tweak—10 new songs were added to the lineup; others were abbreviated or turned into medleys to make room. Most artists would spend months working out the kinks. Beyoncé took three days. “She’s completely relentless in her pursuit of perfectionism,” her creative director, Todd Tourso, tells me as we sit backstage. “It sounds cheesy, but that’s why I’m willing to work so hard for her. When you have this type of leadership and muse and mentor, I think the sky’s the limit.”
Of the 15,000 fans snaking into the venue that evening, the vast majority are young women, mostly white (it is Scotland), and primed for a big night out. A good number wear flashing plastic bows in their hair, echoing the one Beyoncé sports so fetchingly in the video for “XO.” (In the damp Glasgow air they look less adorable.) The evening’s warm-up act is Monsieur Adi, the Italian-born, Paris-based producer whose remixes of Britney Spears, Lana Del Rey, and Madonna have elevated him to a club favorite. Adi wears a permanent grin, like a kid who can’t believe his luck. A former architecture student-turned-fashion designer, Adi stumbled into remixing after a friend heard the music he’d made for his website. Now he was DJing his first concert tour. Two months earlier, he’d woken up in the early hours of December 13 to an email from Courtney Anderson, Beyoncé’s dance curator and A&R consultant. (“I always dressed to the beat of my own drum,” Anderson tells me. “I was that person who’d put on pajamas, a sarong, a T-shirt, and some flip-flops and go to school.”) Anderson wanted Adi to call him. “I gave him a call and he said, ‘Yeah, we’d like you to remix two tracks.’ ” says Adi. “I said, ‘Two tracks? Are you sure? I’m speechless…’ ”

Like most of the staff at Parkwood, Anderson was in the office at midnight when the album dropped. “I’ve never had so many grown men and women send me ‘OMG’ tweets,” he says with a laugh, recounting the hours he had spent handing out remixing assignments to his favorite producers. “The initial reaction was, ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ And I was like, ‘But it’s here! Isn’t it great? What’s your favorite track?’ And then the conversation quickly switched to the music.”
Which had been the point all along.
Out: On certain songs, like “XO,” your voice is a lot more raw (and beautiful) than fans are used to. Was it a conscious decision to be less polished?
Beyoncé: When I recorded “XO” I was sick with a bad sinus infection. I recorded it in a few minutes just as a demo and decided to keep the vocals. I lived with most of the songs for a year and never rerecorded the demo vocals. I really loved the imperfections, so I kept the original demos. I spent the time I’d normally spend on backgrounds and vocal production on getting the music perfect. There were days I spent solely on getting the perfect mix of sounds for the snare alone. Discipline, patience, control, truth, risk, and effortlessness were all things I thought about while I was putting this album together.
If you want to understand the origins of Beyoncé, start with Angie Beyince, vice president of operations at Parkwood Entertainment, and Beyoncé’s first cousin. The similarity in their names is no coincidence: Beyoncé’s mother—Beyince’s aunt—is Tina Beyince (the name comes from their Creole ancestry), and the cousins were so close growing up that they spent every summer together. “The last day of school, Aunt Tina would pick me up and I’d spend the entire summer at her house, and then be dropped back home the night before school started again,” Beyince recalls, quickly finding her stride as we sit in her glass-walled office one frigid afternoon in February. A big Chanel purse sits next to her desk; she wears bright orange nail polish with lipstick to match. When I ask what shade of orange it is, she shakes her head playfully. “A lady never tells!” she quips. “They call me the fourth member of Destiny’s Child. I’m like the original diva. I don’t tell my lipstick colors, my perfume. I’ve been wearing the same perfume for maybe 14 years, and I’ve never uttered the words to anyone.”
Back in the mid- to late ’90s, before she started wearing that mystery perfume, before she could afford a Chanel purse, Beyince was a fixer of sorts: tour accountant, travel booker, media liaison, laundry washer—if it needed doing, she would do it. She recalls hours spent finagling rooms at cheap hotels by trading T-shirts and autographed photos, washing outfits by hand or in machines at whatever semidecent hotel they’d booked themselves into, and hectic nights as a dresser, changing the girls’ clothes during the show. “I’d finish the show and go to the cash office with all the promoters and I’d count out the money, which is funny because I’m a very petite woman.” She shrugs. “But I refer to myself as a lioness. I’m a bad chick. I don’t play. I went in there with all male promoters, and I’d count that money out. The first day I did that they were a dollar short. And I said, ‘I’m missing a dollar.’ They said, ‘Oh no, baby girl,’ everything to shrink me, to diminish me—‘Oh no, sweetie pie, oh no, honey, no, no.’ I said, ‘OK, I’ll count again.’ ” Beyince mimes the actions of counting bills, explaining that this whole process would typically take hours—she is abbreviating for me—but of course she eventually got her dollar.

“I shared a room with the choreographer at the time, and while she was sleeping I would stay up and count all the money, do the payroll, all the expenses,” she says. “I only got maybe two or three hours of sleep each day. Then I’d be back at that cash office: ‘Five dollars short.’ At the end of the tour, every single dollar was accounted for.”
Beyince is, of course, a perfect evocation of the kind of female resourcefulness and grit that Beyoncé was referring to when she described herself recently in Vogue UK as a “modern-day feminist.” The claim has been much debated on blogs, and you have to admire Beyoncé for daring to go there. A minor skirmish has erupted around a lyric in “Drunk in Love”: “Eat the cake, Anna Mae,” apparently lifted from a scene of abuse in the 1993 Tina Turner biopic, What’s Love Got to Do with It? For some, this strains Beyoncé’s credibility, but Beyoncé’s masterstroke was to find a way to ensure that none of this mattered, by getting her music to the fans before the critics, professional and self-appointed, had time to weigh in. That, too, is power.

Themes of money, gender, and power have coursed through Beyoncé’s music since 1999’s “Bills, Bills, Bills,” with Destiny’s Child, but the in-your-face sexuality of her new songs is reminiscent of Madonna’s Sex. “Gone are the days of people making you feel guilty because you’re sexual,” says Noel-Schure, who recalls the younger staff watching carefully for her reaction the first time she listened to the album. “This is not the old days. We need to teach the young responsibility, but you’re not gonna tell somebody, ‘Don’t be sexual.’ Let’s just call a spade a spade.”
Spade-calling is something of a nascent role for Beyoncé, who unleashed her inner activist on Instagram last year, posting messages of support for marriage equality and the Justice for Trayvon Martin campaign. Like Madonna, she appears to have found her voice as she’s grown and blossomed into a global star and businesswoman. It’s no small feat for a black woman to be able to express both her power and her sexuality without being reduced in the process to a whore who has forgotten her place. As she says in a new campaign designed to help young girls develop self-esteem, “I’m not bossy—I’m the boss.” It’s a hackneyed sound bite, but on stage, where Beyoncé is at her best and most powerful, you witness how that same confidence resonates and connects. With her all-female backing crew, the Sugar Mamas, Beyoncé gave her Scottish fans a show to remember that night, but she gave them something else, too: a role model.
Out: Your fifth album has been noted for being feminist, but a number of people in the LGBT community also identify with it. Were the lyrics ever written consciously with different groups in mind?
Beyoncé: While I am definitely conscious of all the different types of people who listen to my music, I really set out to make the most personal, honest, and best album I could make. I needed to free myself from the pressures and expectations of what I thought I should say or be, and just speak from the heart. Being that I am a woman in a male-dominated society, the feminist mentality rang true to me and became a way to personalize that struggle…But what I’m really referring to, and hoping for, is human rights and equality, not just that between a woman and a man. So I’m very happy if my words can ever inspire or empower someone who considers themselves an oppressed minority…We are all the same and we all want the same things: the right to be happy, to be just who we want to be and to love who we want to love.
When you talk with the team at Parkwood, it’s striking how often Thriller comes up in conversation as a kind of Holy Grail for the music industry. “The way music is distributed is so greatly different than it was in the ’80s and ’90s,” Lauren Wirtzer-Seawood, head of digital, laments one afternoon. “You don’t have those three or four iconic albums a year; you have 400 albums that came out in a year, and you have to remember what you listened to.”
At Beyoncé HQ, as the team embarked on the project of releasing the fifth album, the specter of Thriller became something of a catalyst—the model of a cultural moment that the music industry no longer seemed capable of engineering. Part of the challenge was how to win attention long enough to give the music a chance. “I watched a 20-year-old lady go through the Miley Cyrus record in less than 35 seconds on iTunes when it came out,” says Jim Sabey, head of worldwide marketing, grimacing at the memory. “She listened to seven seconds of each song, and I looked at her and she’s, like, ‘Ugh, it’s terrible.’ I said, ‘How do you know? You didn’t even listen to it.’ ”

This, then, is the flipside of the limitless new world in which musicians find themselves. No longer under the thumb of out-of-touch record executives, they find themselves instead at the mercy of ADD-afflicted music fans, surfing multiple sites at one time. You can imagine the anxiety at Camp Beyoncé as summer turned into fall, and they witnessed first Lady Gaga, then Katy Perry, stumble. Both those artists’ albums, ArtPop and Prism, came freighted with expectations, and both were leaked prematurely and almost immediately pronounced disappointments. “Beyoncé put two years of her heart and soul into this album,” says Sabey. “Any artist—a 13-year-old in Atlanta who puts together an album and puts it on YouTube—wants you to go on the journey. They want you to experience the art the way they intended it.”
But the 13-year-old in Atlanta doesn’t have the support team that Beyonce has so assiduously nurtured—a team that has known her for much of her adult life, and in some cases longer. “She’s kept true to the people who have kept true to her,” says Kwasi Fordjour, creative coordinator. “I think that’s amazing—you rarely see artists who keep hold of their A-team throughout their career.” (In an email, Beyonce returned the compliment, saying, “I call them the underdogs because so many people doubted the team I put together.”)
Much of Beyoncé was recorded in the summer and fall of 2012 in a purpose-built studio in the Hamptons. “It was kind of like Survivor or The Real World,” recalls Melissa Vargas, the brand manager. “We slept in there. Everyone had a room. There was only a certain number of people that could come, so if you were vibing with her and everything was going great, you would stay for longer. We had a chef, and every single person in that house sat down at dinner with Jay and Beyoncé.”
It was Beyoncé who decided not to preempt the release of her album with a single, or the typical campaign. She would simply upload it to iTunes, in one go. A big part of the challenge was how to fit the making of all those videos around Beyoncé’s global tour, which had kicked off last April. “Honestly, I was, like, ‘You want to do what?’ ” recalls Vargas. “How are you going to shoot videos when she’s on tour? I mean, directors need to prep.” Beyoncé, too, worried she was losing control toward the end of the process. “I was recording, shooting videos, and performing on the tour every night, all at the same time. At some point I felt like, What am I doing? Is this too ambitious? Even the day the record was to be released I was scared to death. But I also knew if I was that scared, something big was about to happen.” Vargas found herself on a plane to Paris to shoot videos for “Flawless” and “Partition” with the English video director Jake Nava (who’d made the video for 2003’s “Crazy in Love”), and proceeded from there to hopscotch around the world—Puerto Rico, Brazil, London, Paris, Australia, New Zealand, and Houston, where the video for “Blow” was filmed in a much-loved roller rink from Beyoncé’s childhood.
“What the visual album did for people was, they stopped and they watched the entire thing,” says Sabey. “There was no way you could listen to the first six bars of Beyoncé and skip to the next song. You were going to experience this album as a body of work.”
Or, as Carl Fysh, Beyoncé’s U.K. publicist, tells me over a pint of beer after the show in Glasgow: “My generation remembers the excitement of knowing an album was coming out—you saved your pocket money, you went to the record store, you queued up, you got the album and took it home, but you hadn’t heard a thing about it. You looked at everything, you put it on, and you played it 85 times. I think Beyoncé, by doing what she did, let this generation have that experience—of having the album to yourself.”

Exclusive: The Harvard Business School Report on Beyonce

October 2, 2014

Andrew Flanagan 09/30/14

Last week, Billboard reported that the Harvard Business School had taken a close look at the release of Beyonce’s surprise, self-titled album, dropped upon an unprepared world last December. At the time of Beyonce’s midnight release, Billboard covered the event in depth, talking to the people involved and getting the inside scoop. But nearly a year later, Harvard Business School has dug even deeper into what went on behind the scenes of the reveal and Billboard got an exclusive sneak peek.

Anita Elberse, professor of business administration at Harvard Business School and Stacie Smith, a former student of Professor Elberse, have co-written the final word on how Beyonce landed like a meteorite on the dinosaurs last winter with their 27-page report titled, fittingly, “Beyonce.” The study — which will be taught in Elberse’s course “Strategic Marketing in Creative Industries” in early October — takes a bird’s-eye look at the music industry’s current standing and Beyonce’s early career, before moving on to the juiciest bits: Beyonce’s founding of her own company (Parkwood Entertainment, operated as a joint venture with Rob Stringer’s Columbia Records), her role at the company (CEO, lighthouse) and the planning of her opus.

For the report, Elberse and Smith interviewed key employees at Parkwood and Columbia, as well as those at Apple and Facebook directly involved in the release of Beyonce. Here are some of the most fascinating details:

How Beyonce Holds a Meeting
“[Beyonce] doesn’t often sit in her office,” Lee Anne Callahan-Longo, Parkwood’s general manager, told the pair. “She usually walks from one office to the other, speaking with the staff. She’ll come to my office and talk to me, or she will sit in the back and give notes on projects we are working on… She has got a really good sense of the business side, but she doesn’t like to live there always. We often laugh about how an hour into a business meeting she will get up and will start walking around. I can see it then — that I’ve lost her, and that I have satiated the amount of business that she wants to discuss that day. I’ll usually say something like ‘Let’s stop. You are going to say “Yes,” but you are not listening to me anymore.’ She knows herself, will laugh, and say ‘You are absolutely right, I am done.’ Because at the end of the day she is an artist, and her passion for art drives her.”
On the depths of Parkwood’s involvement with Beyonce’s career? Well… they even made commercials other people were paying for. “[Parkwood develops] most of the content that we put on our website, and we produce all the content for our brand partners — we produced webisodes and even a Super Bowl commercial for Pepsi, with whom we had a partnership,” said Jim Sabey, Parkwood’s head of worldwide marketing.

A Peek Inside Beyonce’s Hamptons Summer Rental
Most delicious of all, though, are the details Elberse and Smith unearthed about the process of creating Beyonce. They peek inside the Hamptons house she rented in the summer of 2012 to serve as production headquarters for the record, drawing in collaborators like Sia, Hit-Boy and The-Dream. Said Callahan-Longo: “We rented a house for a month. Everyone would have dinner together every night and break off into different rooms and work on music. She had five or six rooms going, each set up as a studio, and would go from room to room and say things like ‘I think that song needs that person’s input.’ Normally you would not see songs have two or more producers, but it was really collaborative.”

Beyonce wouldn’t be completed enough to consider a release strategy for a year, until the August following that Hamptons summer camp. Plans had to wait until the record’s chief executive had performed the halftime show of Super Bowl XLVII and undertaken a world tour.

Keeping the Beyonce Album Secret
Paramount was avoiding leaks: this project lived, or died, with the big reveal. Parkwood and Columbia reps took a meeting Apple’s Cupertino campus, after which it was agreed that Apple would receive the full Beyonce package to prepare it for the surprise release, which would see the iTunes Store landing page dominated by Queen Bey. “A worldwide launch like this, with music and video content, is something that only iTunes can do,” said iTunes vp of content Robert Kondrk.

Then on to another tech giant: Facebook. The team took a meeting with the Facebook team dedicated to liaising with high-profile concerns (athletes, musicians, actors, etc.) in order to determine what the company could offer them for the big reveal. “Facebook and Instagram are built for this kind of scale,” Facebook’s Charles Porch said. Added Callahan-Longo: “The biggest social-media platform will make sure every music fan will know about the album.” The Facebook collaboration also resulted in Beyonce’s team being one of the first to use the social network’s brand-new-at-the-time “AutoPlay” feature for videos.

Prepping for the Big Reveal
As well, they planned a 72-hour turnaround for the album’s physical release, production of which wouldn’t begin until the album had been unveiled online. “Once the album is out, the plan is to quickly print a black cover with ‘Beyonce’ in pink font which we can just slip over the package,” Jim Sabey said.

Once the release framework was in place, all that was left was to finish the album — work which continued through October, 2013 — and its inextricable video companions. All 17 videos were produced in a 12-week period in the fall, the final wrapping in mid-November, a few short weeks before the album’s release, which scuppered the album’s originally intended release date of Nov. 18. So Friday, Dec. 13 it would be.

“Why not let a 16-year-old fan in Bulgaria have the same capability to judge as someone who runs the biggest radio station in the world,” Rob Stringer rhetorically pondered to Elberse and Smith. “Beyonce has built that audience. And I can imagine the normal release process gets a bit monotonous for someone like her.”

“Normally albums come out on that day, so they can be tracked by Billboard for a full week,” Stringer recalled to Elberse and Smith, ”but then the boss asked ‘Why does the record need to come out on a Tuesday? We’re not putting it in stores, so do we care?’” Retailers did — Target refused to carry the record due to Apple’s exclusive, as did Amazon. (It was also pirated nearly a quarter-million times during its first week.)

As the midnight release loomed, Parkwood employees waited in their war room, refreshing the iTunes Store continuously and biting their nails. Beyonce was in St. Louis that night, and by the time the record had been introduced to the world at large, she was on her way to a show in Chicago. On to the next.

The Woman on Top of the World: Beyonce

June 16, 2014

By JODY ROSEN NY Times 06/03/14

A few years ago, Beyoncé Knowles was like any other record-breaking pop star in an already crowded field. Then something changed.

If you’ve ever seen Beyoncé Knowles astride a concert stage or a red carpet, you know she is a woman with a flair for dramatic entrances. But no previous coup de théâtre prepared the world for the arrival of the singer’s fifth full-length solo record, “Beyoncé,” the “visual album” that airdropped onto iTunes at midnight on Dec. 13, 2013. For months, the music press had seethed with speculation about Beyoncé’s delayed record release, with rumors of disastrous studio sessions and dozens of scrapped songs. “There is utter disarray in Beyoncé’s camp,” the website hissed. It was an unheard-of turn of events for Beyoncé, whose career had been a testament to, as it were, array: a regal, orderly parade from hit to hit, milestone to milestone, strength to strength.

Sure enough, the alleged behind-the-scenes chaos turned out to be the usual behind-the-scenes order, in disguise: While the gossip mills whirred, Beyoncé stealthily recorded 14 songs and shot 17 videos, which she unleashed in that December sneak attack. Purely as a feat of information management, “Beyoncé” was impressive. The National Security Agency couldn’t stop its secrets from spilling all over the place; Beyoncé kept the lid on a project which, conservatively, involved hundreds of individuals — studio musicians, cameramen, key grips, personal assistants, even record executives, as a rule the least trustworthy people on the planet. The arrival of all that music, all at once and out of the blue, was an unprecedented shock-and-awe move, which rocked the record industry back on its heels and convulsed the Internet. A single Beyoncé video is capable of staggering the senses; the simultaneous release of 17 of them — an onslaught of sound and spectacle and costumes and choreography and, in the case of a video like the one for “Rocket,” stately slow-motion images of billowing silk sheets and water droplets tumbling onto Beyoncé’s bare midriff — it was a lot to process. We can only imagine the feelings of Beyoncé’s pop diva competitors, whose carefully plotted monthslong album rollouts were instantly rendered quaint, and moot. That whining, whirring sound you heard on Dec. 13, mingling with the strains of “Drunk in Love” — that was Lady Gaga, in her gloomy castle keep, chainsawing a meat dress into sackcloth.

Beyoncé is 32 years old. She was 9 when she began singing with Girls Tyme, the group she formed with friends in her hometown, Houston; when the successor to Girls Tyme, Destiny’s Child, first cracked the Top 5 on the Billboard Hot 100, in 1998, Beyoncé was just 16. She never seemed like an ingénue, though: Even as a teenager, she had gravitas. In one of the centerpiece songs on the new album, Beyoncé gazes backwards: “Look at me — I’m a big girl now . . . I’m a grown woman.” But the innocence-to-experience cliché doesn’t square with Beyoncé’s life, or art. From the beginning her message has been professionalism, perfectionism, power — ideals exemplified in her fearsome live performances and dramatized in songs that view romance through the lens of finance. Hits like “Bills, Bills, Bills” (1999), “Upgrade U” (2006) and “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” (2008) have found Beyoncé figuratively hunched over a balance sheet, weighing the costs of affections dispensed and luxury goods accumulated. She’s a fit star for our new gilded age, and an apt match, musical and otherwise, for her husband Jay Z, another arch-capitalist. In recent years, Beyoncé has toned down the materialism a bit, but ambition remains her calling card. In the torrid 2011 single “Run the World (Girls)” she sang: “We’re smart enough to make these millions/Strong enough to bear the children/Then get back to business.” The song is a postfeminist anthem, sure. It’s also a business plan that she’s followed to a T.

In 2014, Beyoncé’s grip on the zeitgeist has become a stranglehold. A recent “Saturday Night Live” skit revolved around the gag that Beyoncé-worship has become compulsory in the United States, that Beyoncé refusniks will be tracked down and eliminated by deadly government goons, the Beygency. (“He turned against his country . . . and its queen,” boomed the voiceover.) As “SNL” suggests, Beyoncé has become something more than just a superstar. She is a kind of national figurehead, an Entertainer in Chief; she is Americana. Someday, surely, her “Single Ladies” leotard will take its place alongside Mickey Mouse and the Model T Ford and Louis Armstrong’s trumpet in a Smithsonian display case.

Historically speaking, this is no small achievement. Black women have always been dominant figures in American popular music, but no one, not even Aretha Franklin, has reached the plateau that Beyoncé occupies: pop star colossus, adored bombshell, “America’s sweetheart.” Inevitably, Beyoncé is also a flashpoint, provoking ire from naysayers and ideologues of all stripes. In March, Bill O’Reilly decried “Partition,” a song that details a Beyoncé-Jay Z tryst in a limousine, for setting a poor example for “girls of color.” (Postmarital sex between consenting adults: immoral.) Last month, the black feminist author and activist Bell Hooks told an audience at a New School symposium: “I see a part of Beyoncé that is in fact antifeminist, that is assaulting — that is a terrorist . . . especially in terms of the impact on young girls.” There is a growing scholarly literature on Beyoncé; the Women’s and Gender Studies department at Rutgers University has offered an undergraduate course called “Politicizing Beyoncé.” Beyoncé is, as a cultural studies professor might put it, popular culture’s most richly multivalent “text.” The question these days is not, What does the new Beyoncé record sound like? It’s, What does Beyoncé mean?.

Of course, the meaning begins with sound — with the tone and timbre of Beyoncé’s voice, one of the most compelling instruments in popular music. Beyoncé has traditionalist skills. She can belt an adult contemporary ballad like Barbra Streisand; she can deliver a fiery gospel testimonial; she can channel Michael Jackson (“Love on Top”) or imitate Prince’s falsetto (“No Angel”). But she is unmistakably a product of the hip-hop era, a singer who has assimilated the aggression and slippery rhythms of rap into a virtuosic and strange vocal style. We have gotten so used to Beyoncé, it may be hard to grasp what an oddball she is, how different her approach to rhythm, melody and harmony are to those of previous generations. You can hear that eccentricity in the wild timbral shifts and skittering syncopations of “Drunk in Love,” a half-sung, half-rapped hit that sounds, in the best sense, like a song Beyoncé is improvising from scratch in real time. Like all innovators, Beyoncé has pushed back boundaries, expanding our sense of what music should sound like. To the extent that we hear Beyoncé as “pop,” it’s because she has taught us to do so.

She’s taught the world to see music differently, too. The 17 videos for her latest album capture the star in a head-spinning variety of attitudes and alter-egos: as a beauty pageant contestant; as a moll with a flapper haircut; as a roller-disco queen; as the leader of a militant street mob with her hair dyed green; as a Houston homegirl, vamping on a street in the city’s hardscrabble Third Ward, with a nasty-looking dog on a leash; as a stripper, an ardent lover, a wife; and, in “Blue,” as an earth-mother-with-child, strolling a sun-dazzled strip of Brazilian coastline with her daughter, Blue Ivy. More than three decades after the rise of MTV, there are still those who view music videos as debased or “inauthentic.” But Beyoncé’s music is inseparable from her movie-star magnetism: the way she stares down a camera, strikes a pose, wears her clothes and, especially, the way she dances. And why not? Popular music has always been an audiovisual medium. If Beyoncé is the dominant figure in 21st-century music, perhaps it’s because pop has circumnavigated back to its 19th-century vaudevillian roots, to a time before disembodied voices came to us through hi-fi speakers or noise-canceling headphones, when music was, exclusively, a performing art. Beyoncé is the greatest old-fashioned singer and hoofer, the supreme show-woman, in an era when, once again, we’ve learned to love a splashy musical show.

Of course, she’s more than that. Literally and figuratively, Beyoncé is a moving target — it’s as difficult to get a fix on her as it would be to keep up with her on the dance floor. Beyoncé represents down-home earthiness and impossible glamour, soul-woman warmth and diva hauteur, a nose-to-the-grindstone work ethic and garish 1 percent excess. Her new album is sexed-up to the point of lewdness, with punch lines about body fluids on evening wear and intimations of rough sex. Yet the sex — in the limo, in the kitchen, everywhere, apparently, but the bedroom — is married sex, family-values sex, which, the album makes clear, produced a bouncing baby girl, a result perhaps even Bill O’Reilly can feel good about.

Beyoncé’s songs are packed tight with such contradictions. Think of “Single Ladies,” an anthem of feisty feminist solidarity that endorses the most retrograde diamonds-are-a-girl’s-best-friend brand of transactional romance: “If you liked it, then you should have put a ring on it.” Or consider “***Flawless,” on the new album, which throws together a dizzying mix of sounds and signifiers. There’s a clamorous trap beat and pitch-shifted vocals; there are shout-outs to Houston (“H-town vicious”) and to Jay Z’s record label, Roc Nation (“My Roc, flawless”). There are coarse mean-girl threats (“Bow down, bitches!”) and a sampled snippet from a TEDx talk by the Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie titled “We Should All Be Feminists,” which wags a finger at mean-girl threats: “We raise girls to see each other as competitors.” The video intersperses an excerpt from 10-year-old Beyoncé’s appearance on the TV talent show “Star Search” with the current-day Beyoncé, clad in Kurt Cobain flannel, executing a spectacular dance routine in a dank basement surrounded by skinheads. It’s all tied together by a refrain — “I woke up like this!” — which, among other things, does double duty as a boast about effortless beauty and a mantra of enlightenment. What does Beyoncé mean? What doesn’t she mean.